Friday, February 28, 2014

IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY

I was in the service when this came out, busted from a court martial and supplementing my meager pay with nightclub gigs playing jazz piano...Monk was my main music maker model, and when the mag came out I tore off the cover and hung it on my wall...

...several months later I married, and my wife framed it for me, it still hangs on my wall, over my piano...difficult to measure the impact this cover had but it clearly was big and worldwide...not just because he was an African-American on the cover of the world's most important news magazine (at a time when many African-Americans were still often legally discriminated against and most de facto), and a jazz musician, but a jazz composer and music maker unlike any other and certainly way unlike (i.e. way too avant grade or "progressive") what was considered palatable to not just the general audience but even many jazz fans at the time...

...a truly seminal moment when many indicators of a different kind of future for the USA and the world intersected in this one image...powerful and iconic...I still miss Monk...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

MORE L.A. DAYS

Me in my favorite shirt (that I've been reminded was a vintage one my old friend poet Robert Slater sent me when I was living in L.A.) with Dennis Christopher in my left arm, but unfortunately my memory fails me for the man I have my right arm around, 1982 or '83.
The ever volatile Helena Kallianiotes from FIVE EASY PIECES and owner of the East L.A. club partly owned by Jack Nicholson—HELENA'S—where I started the weekly poetry reading series, Poetry In Motion, with Eve Brandstein and help from others, c. '86 or maybe later.
Acort, at the time (in my play CHICKS WITH D*CKS for one thing but also on Tv etc.) Emil Alexander (aka Emilio Schneeman) all the way to my right, and in them middle David, better known as "Memory Man" an amazing memory performer who could memorize a multi digit number you made up, I mean endlessly long number, with one look and recite it back to you backwards! around '95?
Me and actor, at that time, Jim Keefe, also in the same play (the pics were taken at the theater or actually outside it).
Harry Dean (Stanton) and my partner in Poetry in Motion, Eve Brandstein and me at Club Largo which our reading series helped put on the map when it opened, c. early '90s.
me and Jeff Kober with his son Henry at my 50th birthday party in the house I rented in Santa Monica, with I think my good friend Michael O'Keefe behind him to his left and it looks like my old friend Jamie Rose in the doorway talking to my daughter Caitlin, 1992.
Actress and dancer Mimi Lieber and me in what looks like it may be The Pink? c. early '90s.
Actor, dancer and professional clown (when we first met in NYC) and later poet and performance artist Eric Trules, my oldest son Miles, filmmaker and old NYC friend Carol Dysinger and me c. late '80s.
My old friend from NYC days, Sharon Stone, and me at my 50th b'day in my Santa Monica home, '92.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

NEBRASKA

I was never fond of Bruce Dern as a movie actor other than playing nasty characters. I never found him sympathetic or very pleasant to watch on the big screen. I've felt that way about others who I feel are in the same category. At least in my head, like Jason Robards. When they were calling him the "new Bogart" when I was young (possibly connected to his marrying Bogie's widow, Lauren Bacall) I felt it was a terrible betrayal to the memory of Bogie. Robards didn't have anywhere near the same screen charisma. Neither does Bruce Dern for my money.

But I can see why he got nominated for so many awards for his work in NEBRASKA. What I don't like about Dern sort of fits the character he plays, and ultimately it pays off. But initially it was grueling for me to watch Dern even on the small screen in this. Thankfully he was surrounded with actors who did more than hold their own, especially Will Forte.

For my taste, Forte is the one who should be getting nominations and even winning a few awards. He's great as the guarded and confused grown son of an unguarded but also confused old father. And June Squibb is getting justified kudos for her performance as Dern's character's wife, a true tour de force.

Except for THE DESCENDANTS, Alexander Payne's movies often leave me wishing they had more heart to them, or at least weren't quite so cynical. NEBRASKA has quite a bit of cynicism about "real Americans" as too many movies seem to these days, not just Payne's. But it also has some sweet comic moments and some set pieces right out of a Grant Wood painting, and almost as satisfying in a washed out kind of black-and-white way that nonetheless lacks the artistry of the black-and-white cinematography of the pre-technicolor Hollywood.

But it's worth seeing. The story, and like I said, Dern's performance, ultimately hold up and make it worth the land-of-the-living-dead early scenes that for me were almost cringe worthy. Though I will add, whether it was Clooney's charisma, or the presence of some positive family connections, and even a little joy, that made THE DESCENDANTS the exception in Payne's oeuvre, as they say, I'd like a little more of both next time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MORE BINGE READING

So we're back to below freezing after several days above it. A lot less snow but still a few feet in the front yard of this old house my apartment is in. My back, pulled from shoveling, is much better, but I'm still resting it as much as possible, which means continuing to catch up on my reading.

Two books given me by friends I've managed to finish are Garry Wills' Pulitzer Prize winning LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG The Words That Remade America, and John McWhorter's OUR MAGNIFICENT BASTARD TONGUE The Untold History of English. Both all about words and the ways they're used.


Wills' analysis of The Gettysburg Address includes not just the history of speeches from the Greeks to 19th-Century America, but the history of battlefield cemeteries, Lincoln's speech-writing history and so much more. Too detailed, perhaps, for the casual reader, but a cornucopia of interesting information all supporting the reasons why Lincoln's speech was so seminal.


McWhorter's analysis of how English owes a lot more to the Celts and the Vikings than normally attributed to them is equally detailed, but his approach is a little more smart ass, especially for a linguist and scholar. Part of his theme is that the so-called rules of good English grammar are arbitrary and come from a time when people (well, old white men) were determined to freeze an always changing language into something they could control.

He makes it clear that when people like me write things like, "Billy and me kept going" instead of "Billy and I" or use "who" instead of "whom" or "they" for a singular person, we're not "wrong," but in fact just reflecting the way many of us actually speak. Something, of course, others have contended but never with such panache and authority.

Both books were a blast for me, but I only recommend them to those who enjoy reading intelligent arguments for an interesting author's perspective on things most people don't think about, or care about, that much. But if you're interested in linguistics and well as in-depth history, you might enjoy them.

Monday, February 24, 2014

ALICE HERZ-SOMMER R.I.P. (AT 109)

Thanks to my friend JenW for sending me the link to this. I'd seen clips and TV bits about this woman, but this piece of the documentary about her is inspiring and touching.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

BERNADETTE MAYER'S AND GREG MASTERS' AT MAUREEN'S

My third day of being laid up with a pulled back, and although it's slowly getting better (and the weather outside continues to be almost Springlike despite the few feet of snow still on the lawn), I'm still spending most of the time laying in bed catching up on reading. I've been enjoying AT MAUREEN'S enormously ever since Greg Masters sent a copy to me, and now even more so.

It's the combined journals of Greg and Bernadette Mayer during a summer vacation staying at the poet Maureen Owen's place in Connecticut on the sound while she and her family were away. Well "combined" might not be the correct term, intertwined. They each kept a journal of their stay and the book goes back and forth with each of their takes on a day's events.

Bernadette's mate at the time, poet Lewis Warsh, was also there and their three small children, so the journals keep us up to date on their goings on as well. But it is the dailiness of a poet's life and writing routines as transmitted by these two canny observers that makes this book so engaging and satisfying to me.

Kerouac said something about how in the future (which is now) everyone would write their stories. He saw that as a good thing and wished he could've used the real names of his friends and people he wrote about in his autobiographical novels. The whole memoir craze has proven him prescient once again, as he was with so much.

And though I've been accused, or my writing has, of being too self-centered and/or self-indulgent, because of my decision to write about things I actually experienced or witnessed, or heard about firsthand from people telling their stories (people I was related to or knew personally), and to convey my own perspective, I don't find other peoples' self reporting self-centered or self-indulgent at all. I love to hear and read people's stories. So I was just choosing to do what I dug. And AT MAUREEN'S, though just a small part of two poets' life stories, is fascinating to me in the details and the telling.

I highly recommend it, especially if you're a fan of Bernadette's and/or Greg's poetry (and/or Lewis Warsh's for that matter) or just of poetry in general or just dig good writers writing about writing.  (Or maybe even just of 1981, the year of the summer journals.) There's lists of books they read while AT MAUREEN'S, as well as discussion of what they're writing. I savored the summer pace of it as well, a true antidote to the onslaught of media and electronic input (though I notice it is available as an ebook on Amazon, if I read that correctly).

Anyway, here's a very small sample from each poet's journals:

"Greg is watching High Plains Drifter, it turns me on to live beyond the nuclear family, quite harmlessly. Can I say that? The pleasures of today were: feeling the hot sun not so hot anymore that you can't bear it, swimming in the relatively empty (of people) lake (and turning to the sky and floating looking at the clouds. of the inspiring puffy kind you could imagine getting exhilarated flying above), real corn, watching Marie's pristine face, kissing germanic Max, measure the sunflowers, eat very hot rice and vegetables, drink lots of wine and walk Marie down the road." —Bernadette

"It's practically a sauna here in the shed but I'm not complaining. I'd rather be here than anyplace I can think of or not bother trying to think of. As the days go by one after the other, it seems to me there's less and less to write about like the gentle passing of the days with its ease and vacation casualness is beginning to dominate the way these days belong to my life making the writing which attempts to define it seem like so much baggage. But I know too, to feel any worth as a human being, I have to feel like I'm accomplishing something." —Greg

And, it turns out, he was, as was Bernadette, and I'm grateful they shared it with the rest of us.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

JOHN CLARKE'S TRAIN STORIES

Being laid up with a pulled back, as they say, has given me the opportunity to catch up on a lot of reading. I have stacks of books on my night table (divided into three piles: the smallest being fiction, the tallest nonfiction prose, and in the middle poetry). Most that have been sent to me by authors or publishers or friends.

I don't have a photo for the cover of John Clarke's TRAIN STORIES, because it isn't on Google and my back is too bad to try and use my copy machine etc. I can only type a bit at a time and not much, but this little book doesn't demand much. It's printed by the author, or published by the author I should say, and is a small selection of stories about John's riding the rails for a while when he was younger.

There's only a few collected here but since the last one is TRAIN STORY #49, I'm assuming there's a much larger manuscript they came from. If so, I would love to see that published and available to readers everywhere someday. Because this little book is a gem. The writing is pure pleasure, as Clarke simply describes, but perfectly, what it was like when he decided with his friend, another John, to hop freight trains and then did it, to experience the romance and challenges and fears and excitement and etc. of that old practice that so many songs and stories and novels and movies have portrayed.

None quite like John Clarke's version though. It's humble, which means realistic, but also bright and precise and inviting. These TRAIN STORIES were a delight to read, and moments, images, realizations from them will stay with me forever. What more can you ask of art?

Here's a sample of what's so good about this little book, it's John's reaction to his father's fears and warnings and worries and admonishments about John's decision to take this trip with his friend, catching rides on freight trains:

"In my mind, I was already gone. I felt sad and strong. I wanted him to say, 'have a good trip John, be careful, be great, I know you are, tell me when you get back what you found, tell me really why you're going, I want to know,' but, that's something inside of me, not him."

[PS: John Clarke is the lead singer and songwriter in a band with my oldest son Miles, BELL ENGINE.
PPS: The best thing I found on the web about John and his TRAIN STORIES (and other art) is here.]

Friday, February 21, 2014

OY

Nice almost Spring-like temperatures today and tomorrow, but I threw my back out yesterday shoveling heavy ice and icy snow that I could've left alone but was getting some negative energy out, I thought. Never a good idea. So flat on my back all day with occasional forays to other parts of the apartment leaning on my teenager or, bending-over struggling-to-take-a-step, by myself. This too shall pass, which thankfully, experience has taught me. Meanwhile, I'm getting some reading done. No writing though, other than this, for now.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

L.A. DAYS

I almost never took photographs (and when I tried to they usually came out crazy) nor asked anyone to photograph me (except for "head shots" back when I was a working actor), so any photo with me in it is usually a surprise to me, and often makes me wish I had asked someone to take a photo of me with some of my other good friends at various points in my life.

But here's a few I found from my Hollywood years of me with people I knew and liked, and hope they felt the same.

That's the artist and actress and writer Mary Woronov, crouching or sitting on the floor, with artist Diane Lawrence making the gesture and me gesturing toward them in my favorite flea market shirt at a party my second wife and I threw in my first California home in Santa Monica c. 1982.
That's me and actor/director Hart Bochner at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market where we met for breakfast once a week for many months one year, I think 1983 0r 4.
That's me in my favorite red coat (at the time) and the writer/poet/director/manager/producer/ etc. Eve Brandstein, my partner in the weekly poetry reading series I started and ran with her in L.A. around 1986 and kept it going for six or eight years (she has started it up again but monthly I think). And I'm sure you recognize Stephen and Alec Baldwin with us in a club I no longer remember the name of. in, I'd guess, around 1990.
Me and actress Katey Sagal around I'd guess 1992, probably at Club Largo in West Hollywood.

I feel fortunate to have had so many interesting creative and inspiring people in my life. And to have so many still in it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

ANOTHER LONGER NEWER QUOTE (RE JORDAN DAVIS ET. AL.)

"i can't type well, but i have to tonite.  the reason is my third cousin once removed just rolled over in his teenaged grave and begged for sanity to take over the world & for peace to prevail in his name and the names of all the people who have died in murkkka since its founding because some nut had a gun and a fragment of an uneducated and hate-polluted brain and pulled the trigger because he didn't like something he (sometimes she) couldn't understand, tolerate or control, generally because their ancestors lost the civil war (for all the right reasons) and black people or poor people won't be good slaves anymore, can vote (and in one pregnant case, run the country) and this is one way to take back THEIR country which they stole from the redskins who they lied to and slaughtered and intermarried with and took over & now want to be seen as, but, like the john wayne fans they are, can't really stand to see them succeed with the casinos or the other payback their lawyer children have helped them get from litigating the broken treaties of yesteryear and hi-yo silver, etc.

the harsh truth is this, from my 74 year perspective, now heavily informed  by 8 years of family research which exposed the twisted hate-filled ambience of pre- and post civil war murkkka & my memories of sitting in dockum's drugs in 1954 wichita, kansas until those people got the message that we weren't going to continue to shine their shoes and go to the back door or take food out because they didn't like us, (the kansas i knew is on its death bed) even though not only did our women suckle their babies and do their light work, our children pick their cotton, our men win their wars, our fathers and uncles  build their war machines and cheer their victories, patiently waiting for the promised 40 acres and a mule, voting rights, women's rights, unsegregated housing, equal education, etc., but many of us still believe that god or jesus and NOT us will save the day and see to our needs.  or keep US out of prison.  baby think…belief is just a swallow away-gulp...

there is a season, turn,turn, turn…as we approach the age of aquarius, the solar system is crossing the plane of this so-called milky way galaxy as we specks on earth kill our planet with the gouged-earth policies of rape-mining, the drilled earth polices of the petrohogs, the must-always-grow concept of business and the gambler concept of guessing and living off other people's efforts while trading debt (nothing from nothing leaves nothing, thank you billy preston), all of which are daily applauded while millions starve or just barely get by, & such endeavors as the race to mars, which is what earth will resemble in another relatively short period after the above rats leave this sinking ship, or the truly spectacular efforts of the european space astronomy and rocket launches, and the large hadron collider whose budgets could easily provide inexpensive housing for several billion people, or the folks who will soon be having free-fall sex while you and i try not to have to eat monsanto death produce or frankenslurry, or drink dirty water and sleep in a hollow log and watch our children go to jail or die while sitting in a filling station (the sacrificial lamb).

i may seem to be rambling here, but in the sense of the big picture, christians especially, but also muslims, jews, and mega churches (not to be confused with religious anything) etc. are clamoring for violence, your money and little boys-(let us pray, amen.  or young men).  morally, i am not an expert, but if i learned anything from my study of comparative religions, none of the above faux patriotisms, corruption, atomic tragedies, political travesties, proclivities for destruction, warfare, racial & sexual hatred, disregard for human life and the imbalance of the planet are written into any religious dogma (sorry, exclude muslims, jews & christians and all other would-be machos for the sex part), yet each of the denominations praises all of the above as the basis for its recruitment and continuity as part of their theological models, saying in effect, there is only one way, i believe this, i have faith, and my gun will back me up.  try me.  jesus/allah/jahweh is a warm drone incoming.

so, to fix the above mess, (imho), its time for everyone who seriously and consciously believes in the sanctity of life, the virtue of truth and honesty and the value, promotion and maintenance of human dignity above all else to please stop what you're doing, tell everyone you know to do the same and spend intense time reorganizing independently for real change on a planetary basis, like signing positive petitions, dunning politicians, daily personal boycotts of oily products, frankengoop, banksters, police gangs, wolf killers, filthy chicken processors, sanctimonious political liars and civil war losers and any other purveyors of regressive and retarded momentum enforced through a so-called legal apparatus which has clarence thomas or scalia as its poster girls.

reversing the damage will require the rest of our lives and focus, because these folks don't sleep.  of course, it's never easy or simple, but it takes the courage of one's convictions- if you don't have any, please get some, immediately, if not sooner-the creeps succeed in a vacuum.  i know most of you are involved in some way with positive change but many murkkkans are asleep.  i'm not cranky with whoever reads this, but, (and not just because of jordan davis), tempus fugit, and the result of dawdling will be an o shit moment, probably irreversible.

turn, turn, turn..."
—Wright Eugene Harris III (from an email to me)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE BIG MELT OFF

So I woke up this morning to another new layer of snow, the few inches that had fallen through the night leaving my world with a white sugar frosting making the mountains and fences and barriers of snow seem even bigger, because they were.

But as I leaned on my shovel during a break, before my teenager showed up from his mother's and finished shoveling the sidewalks, and before the sun even broke through, there was a different feel in the air. I could actually hear a bird singing somewhere nearby.

It felt like a touch of Spring was in the air, and that despite the fact that the wet spots where I shoveled this morning and the icicles hanging from the roof had begun to drop moisture instead of shards, turned so icy my friend Bill took a spill on his way out (I hadn't thrown down the salt yet)...despite that, the big melt is on its way. Over the next few days we're in for a lot of melted snow creating creeks and rivers on the sidewalks and streets, the only places there isn't snow these days, at least where it's been totally cleared.

It's like that early silent movie with, was it Mary Pickford, trying to cross the frozen river as it begins to thaw and the ice to break up, or when I was a kid and there was snow on the ground from Christmas to Valentine's Day, at least, so when the first little feeling of Spring arrived it felt life changing, the excitement of anticipation building up.

It will probably take several days of melting snow before any actual earth is spotted beneath the several feet that's out there now, and weeks of consistently above freezing temperature to see all the snow disappear. But what a wonderfully natural transition for the kids who've never experienced it to now know firsthand. Though we know from recent years' catastrophic climate events, that beyond this week's forecast anything could still happen...

Monday, February 17, 2014

SID CAESAR R.I.P.

I know he had a good long life and he passed last week, but I wanted to get a small tribute to Sid Caesar on this blog before I forgot, because he brought so much pleasure to me as a boy in his comic bits on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, the first great TV sketch comedy show. I loved everything he did with Imogene Coca, especially, but with all the cast members. And I always fell out of my chair laughing when he did his many made up versions of "foreign" languages. His writers get a lot of attention because they went on to their own fame: Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks (that's Mel up there on the beach with Sid), Woody Allen, et. al. But to keep it short and the focus just on him, here's a silent bit that shows what an amazing physical comic he was without help from anyone's words or presence:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE

"It's never too late"  —George Schneeman (from an inscription to me in Painter Among Poets)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

ELLEN PAGE STEPS UP

You probably already know about this. I was sent the video early today and watched it without knowing the outcome, though it pretty quickly became apparent. But either way, it's an incredibly moving moment of bravery and humanity and relief mixed with reality...

Friday, February 14, 2014

SNOW JUNGLE

My friend Bill dared me to write another "Winter Wonderland" post after this last snowstorm hit us in Jersey (and half the country). Knowing that most people we know are totally done with winter and all the snow. And I understand. I'm lucky that I don't have a 9 to 5 job to go to, or a job that requires me to work outside no matter the weather (although when I did as a young man I actually dug it). So I can go out in it to shovel the sidewalk, or my car out of the public parking lot I use, or to walk to the local grocery store etc. and enjoy that post-snowfall muffled stillness.

But because it was above freezing for the first time in what seems like weeks or months and the sun was shining today, crossing the street anywhere meant trying to step over rivers of slush sometimes half a foot deep, if you could find a break that had been shoveled between the giant snowbanks and snow hills the street plows made. That seemed to really bother everyone I saw trying it (stepping over the rivers of slush). I went out in my sneakers and they have a hole in the back, I guess to help you pull them on or something, so I can't step in anything wet that's more than an inch or so.

Yet, somehow I crossed the rivers of slush with a long enough stride that I didn't get my socks and feet wet. And walking down a newly shoveled sidewalk with the piled up snow from it next to me and the street on the other side, so the snowbank also included all the snow the plows shoved up there too and it came up almost to my shoulder seemed to me kind of extraordinary, an exceptional thing to experience and I could't help but feeling grateful for it.

And then I drove with my teenager up to The Berkshires in Western Mass. and the snow covered everything all the way up. Only the highways were clear of snow, and it was too warm for ice so the ride was no problem, as long as you looked out for potholes and avoided them (and the traffic was much less than normal for a Friday afternoon, especially on a holiday weekend) and all I could think of was how beautiful the world looked, the trees and hills and ponds and fields and yards and houses and barns and everything just covered with a thick layer of white, in some places about a foot and in others closer to two feet. Or more.

And in the end it did seem like a "Winter Wonderland" but as a concession to my friend Bill, I decided another description, especially when we passed through roads with tall trees on each side, their branches bowed down with snow, might be "snow jungle" and thus the title of this post. Now they tell me there's more on the way tomorrow, which I hope doesn't interfere with my teenager's snowboarding. As for me, I see they have a big screen showing of CASABLANCA tomorrow evening in Great Barrington in the refurbished Mahaiwe Theater, so this long and intense winter still seems full of surprises and rewards...for me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

AVERY THOMPSON R.I.P.

I posted about Avery Thompson here, after my teenager and I went to see a show built around Avery's impressive talent as an impressionist, singer, comic, poet, songwriter, rapper, etc. It was a benefit concert held in my childhood hometown of South Orange, New Jersey, ostensibly to raise money for Avery's medical expenses but really just to celebrate this amazing teenager's life.

As I wrote then, not only did an array of some of the best jazz and R&B musicians in the New York metropolitan area show up to perform for Avery and just support him, including the ladies'  favorite "Joe," but surprise guest Jamie Foxx revealed himself on stage at one point as just one more back up singer to Avery.

Foxx took Avery to The Super Bowl just weeks ago as his special guest, where, as Foxx told Avery's family, Avery lit up the place, with everyone from the bus driver to Leo DiCaprio expressing their appreciation of, and amazement at, Avery's joyful and giving talent and presence, despite the leukemia that he and his family knew was in its very last stages.

I only saw Avery at the concert I wrote of, and only know him through my good friend and Avery's aunt, Mindy Fullilove. But his passing last night feels as much of a heartbreaking reality for me as any loss of anyone I've know my entire life. Thankfully, his spirit lives on, as does the impact he had on so many, from the famous to the unknown, from those whose lives he was in daily to those, like me, he only touched once with his actual presence.

I feel like the snowstorm, some say blizzard, that has been occurring since last night, is a tribute to Avery's passing from our outside lives into our interior lives, as though the purity of his spirit is covering the world of his home and family in crystal clear beauty and stillness, while inside our individual homes is the warmth and vitality of love and reassurance reflected in all the colors of our lives that balance the neutrality of new snow's colorless splendor.

Here's another of Avery's videos demonstrating his impressionist's skills (close your eyes and try and guess who he's imitating and then go back later and look, or even better, if you know rap go to Avery Thompson on Vine and find clips of him imitating some rappers so well he faked out my teenager).

The ways Avery Thompson threw himself happily into music and mimicking and family and friends with complete commitment and fearlessness is an example to us all of how we should spend these precious moments that make up the only lives we have.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THE BEATLES: THE NIGHT THAT CHANGED AMERICA

Ah, sweet. I didn't catch this Sunday night, the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. But I caught the encore showing tonight and was glad I did.

Yes, there were missed opportunities, especially when it came to the selection of musical artists who performed some of The Beatles...I was gonna say hits, but most Beatles songs were "hits"...so....songs. Some worked and some didn't. But when they did work, man, it was sweet. And I mean that in every sense.

I used to get into arguments with fans who put down The Beatles for writing songs that weren't edgy enough (obviously that view is highly selective) etc. and preferred The Stones (yeah, that perennial battle). But for me, the most consistently great songwriters and performers of my era (and I'm around the same age as most of The Beatles) were...The Beatles.

And as for The Stones' bad boy image and all that. To me they were posers back when we were all young, though I grew to appreciate them, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts especially.  Yet even though Mick wrote some great rock'n'roll anthems, and could be entertaining, he was a business school major and a major diva who knew how to milk every opportunity (and I'm saying that even from personal experience the few times I was around him).

To me The Beatles were more romantic and sweet and upbeat and optimistic, and all that, because they all had such heavy backgrounds of loss and deprivation and were obviously committed to finding a way to not only survive but transcend all that. And it helped, in my case, that three of them were obviously of Irish descent and displayed the kind of humor I found most fun.

And that's what made the present day part of the tribute to that night half a century ago so great, because every time Paul, and especially Ringo, were on stage, and especially when they were together for their half of a Beatles reunion, they were so loose and warm and open and friendly and joyful and uncalculating or self-centered (and both their voices were amazingly on key almost for every note, Paul even hitting the high ones, despite their being in their 70s!) that the spirit of those earlier times that they had done so much to augment and even generate, that lightness and lack of cynicism (that's what always killed me about The Stones was the cynicism, especially when sung by a business school graduate who was as calculating and at least pretend cynical as any corporate greed head) created a sense of easy elation that brought them back and right into my heart to fulfill the promise that was always implied if not outright stated in their art, the promise of satisfaction.

Musically, mentally and spiritually, I never felt "I can't get no satisfaction" when listening to The Beatles. I just wanted to be one of them.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

42

Seems appropriate that surfing cable tonight, I came upon this film, which so many friends recommended to me, sure I'd love it, but I had yet to see. Appropriate after my post yesterday about my friend Richard Andersen's book about an American Legion sponsored boy's baseball team that refused to give up a black teammate in the face of Southern racism in 1934. Because, as I said in that post, it predated by over a decade the entrance of Jackie Robinson into professional baseball, the first "Negro" ball player of that era to play on an otherwise all-white professional baseball team.

I did a lot of wiping away tears and repressing bigger emotional outbursts sitting in my raggedy old easy chair watching 42 a few hours ago, the story of Jackie Robinson's challenging but successful emergence as a true sports hero and an example to little white boys like me at the time (see my poem "Sports Heroes, Cops, and Lace" in CANT BE WRONG).

Harrison Ford gives one of the best performances of his long career as Branch Rickey, the owner of The Brooklyn Dodgers who made the decision to hire Robinson despite opposition from almost every direction, including much of his team. It's not just an impressive performance but a moving one. And Chadwick Boseman as Robinson does a terrific job as well, although he had some moves, especially early in the film, that seemed more 21st century than mid-20th. Nicole Beharie as his wife does a great job too, though also at times a bit contemporary for the period.

I watched Jackie Robinson play so much on TV and give interviews and star as himself in a black and white version of his story that came out when I was a boy and Jackie was still playing baseball, that I felt like he was an integral part of my life. And right from the start he was a model for me of courage and determination and tenacity. To see that familiar story played out in a new movie with great acting (and good writing and directing by Brian Helgeland) and be moved all over again by this amazing tribute to the human spirit felt like some sort of almost personal triumph. Talk about engaging the audience.

So, as so many have said to me since 42 (by the way, that was Robinson's number on his shirt, the only number to ever be permanently retired from baseball) came out, I highly recommend this film.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A HOME RUN FOR BUNNY


Richard Andersen is an old friend, and a uniquely original novelist whose work I've known since the 1970s. But his latest book, with illustrator Gerald Purnell, is a picture book with only several lines of prose on most of the pages, that tell the true story of a Springfield, Massachusetts, baseball team sponsored by The American legion and happened to have one player who was what then would be called "a Negro."

The team won the New England championship and had a good chance to win the national championship in Chicago. But first they had to win the Eastern regionals in Gastonia, North Carolina, where for the first time in their lives they encounter virulent legal racism, all aimed at their teammate.

They face a difficult choice when it becomes clear their team cannot play with their black teammate, Bunny Taliaferro. The choice they make may not be what you would expect, but their story is a triumphant one that I am sorry to say I had no knowledge of and am happy to see Richard and Gerald bring to life in this totally satisfying reading experience.

One of the elements that makes it so satisfying is the perspective of the narrator, an Italian-American boy who's not even sure he likes Bunny (due seemingly to envy of Bunny's baseball prowess). But it is also the reality that the story told here occurred over a decade before Jackie Robinson triumphed as the first black professional baseball player, making history.

I love, as you probably know if you've read this blog before, creative work that is personally committed and original in form or content or both, in one way or another. A HOME RUN FOR BUNNY is that. This book is nothing like any "picture book" I ever read to my kids when they were small, or encountered when I was, let alone as an adult. It's one of a kind and deserves to be on every family's bookshelf.

[PS: And now that I think of it, it's a perfect book to check out in honor of "Black History Month" because I bet there are very few readers, even historians—"white" or "black"—who even know this compelling piece of "black history."]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

LATE EVENING ANTI-RANT

There seems to be enough Internet vitriol to go around, but lately, with the Farrow/Allen rehashing and the celebrity heroin o.d. it seems on the sites I look at, including Facebook, there's more vitriol than ever. I guess when an event or situation evokes personal traumatic history, especially, then it feels like there's a personal stake in one perspective or another.

I've done a pretty good job of mostly staying out of it, but now and then I add my two cents that I think are on the side of reason, logic, fairness and what facts are known, and what unknown. But I find that people who feel the strongest have the weakest capacity for responding to what I might have actually said or written but instead respond to the what they are feeling as if what I said is trying to nullify those feelings.

I'm sure in many circumstances, I do the same. I hope not as much as I once may have. But the whole process just reminds me of the polarization that has taken place in general in this society (as it has before and has elsewhere, and in many places more so than here as I write this).

Of course, there's always differences of opinion and strong feelings about the usual suspects (religion, politics, etc.), but this past week, maybe because of the power of the Internet in our lives, seemed like it got more personal than ever because it involved the personal lives and foibles of popular public figures who aren't religious or political icons but entertainers.

I hope friendships haven't really been severed over differences of opinions about what none of us can know factually, i.e. what was in the heroin users mind, etc. I know for myself, it has made me, at least for now, more cautious about jumping to conclusions and broadcasting opinions not based on facts I have personal knowledge of or have been exposed to by those who have.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

TRIBUTE TO JAMIE ROSE'S LADY BLUE

Had to share this when I saw it, 'cause Jamie Rose is one of my oldest and best-es (did I just say that?) friend...and even more beautiful now...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

YET ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

"Most of what we regard as thinking is nothing but voting—taking sides on an issue we had nothing to do with laying down."
—Robert Frost (from his Selected Letters)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WINTER WONDERLAND, AGAIN?!

This morning my good friend Bill stopped by for a visit and asked if I'd written another "Winter Wonderland" post on my blog. Having a little fun with me, because I've written one for almost every snowstorm we've had, and it's starting to get repetitive (the snowstorms, and the "Winter Wonderland" posts).

And the fact is, I was thinking of writing one but couldn't find the words this time. Because the snow had stopped, the sky was blue, the sun was out and reflecting off the pure white landscape in a way that made the whole day seem like an elaborate set for the movie "Winter Wonderland."

It had been a heavy snow, and even the topmost branches in the trees, which are plentiful in my town, had what looked like several inches of it crowning them like...well, that's the problem, I can't think of how to describe it, it was almost like the branches and everything else were uniquely full of new snow that obviously had a weight to it (some trees and bushes were bent over from it) and yet seemed so pliant, as if the world had been suddenly covered in the whitest ice cream you ever saw and the sun was beginning to melt a bit.

Scrumptious comes to mind. Certainly gorgeous. And no way to capture anything more than a snippet of it in a photo because to walk out into it was to be surrounded with whiteness, giving every thing it covered a suddenly sensuous shape it never had before.

Anyway, I asked my teenager to take a photo just for us as we drove to the grocery store (to stock up for the snow and ice storm due to start in a few hours), but he wanted to do it later, after we got back, because he had a shot in mind. But by the time we got back, big chunks of snow were already falling or sliding off everything, the topmost branches of the trees already bare again.

So the only photo I have of this morning's "Winter Wonderland" world is in my memory, with a lot of other long gone scenes that still bring joy to my heart when I recall them.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN R.I.P.

I never met him, but I knew people who had worked with him, and they had good things to say about him. It is so terrible and sad that he had too go while still at the peak of his artistry. The saddest thing about it, and about addiction in general, is how many others are hurt by it besides the addict, like family and friends, but saddest of all, the addict's kids.

May they recover someday from the trauma of losing their father so early in their lives, and may the rest of his family and friends do so too. His troubles are over, but the troubles this kind of death cause unfortunately  aren't.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

RENE RICARD R.I.P.

This is what Rene Ricard looked like when I first met him in the early 1970s. I knew him then as a poet. We'd verbally spar a bit whenever we ran into each other, because he had the quick acerbic wit that at times felt to me like having acid thrown in your face. I wasn't as quick or as witty, so often ended up resorting to street defenses, which were useless around the kind of arch sarcasm Rene could wither any opponent with. (He could also be flirtatious and flattering when in the mood, which I was often equally clumsy at responding to.)

The last time I saw him was when we were both reading for an event at The Bowery Poetry Club a few years ago. He looked much older, as I know I did to him, but he was as sharp tongued as ever. The years had softened me and I was just so happy to see he was still alive, as so many from those days and those scenes are long gone, and told him so and I could see it made him happy.

The years in between our first meeting and our last had made Rene more widely known, especially the film BASQUIAT in which one of the lead characters was supposed to be Rene (the actor playing him was so far from my experience of Rene, it was almost impossible to figure out where his portrayal came from), but on the downtown scene, it seemed like he'd always been known (partly due to his appearances in Warhol movies, and partly for his art criticism that helped discover new great artists like Basquiat for instance, but for me it was always his poetry, slight as his output was).

My favorite encounter with Rene was after I'd read at one of those New Year's Day marathon poetry readings at Saint Marks in the late 1970s or early '80s (I left the city in the summer of '82) at which I read two poems that were relatively new—"My Image" and "Fuck Me In The Heart Acceptance"—after which he told me the poems were so brilliant that I should be famous just for writing them. That was the sweetest he'd ever been to me. And I never forgot it.

Rene was one of a kind. You can check out the film BASQUIAT to see how he's portrayed there, or read his art criticism. But for me the best way to remember him is to read his poetry. Here's an example from his first collection, RENE RICARD 1979-1980 and the perfect epitaph:

"THE TIME OF DAY IN GIORGIONE

The sun is always setting in my heart
Like the time of day in Giorgione
The days drift beyond reach and...poof they are gone"



THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Finally saw THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and can see why DiCaprio was nominated for so many awards. It may be the best work he's done since he was young. And for once, I wasn't distracted by his boyish looks and presence because they seemed to fit the juvenile perspective and behavior of the character. (Chiwetel Ejiofor is still my choice for Best Actor in a film in 2013.)

And as always, Martin Scorcese keeps you interested with sharp edits and montages and angles and etc. Though as sometimes happens with a Scorcese flick, for my taste anyway, there is often some miscasting, or weak casting, and moments of inexplicable and sometimes over the top "acting"—in quotes. (Like, I love Rob Reiner, but as DiCaprio's character's dad, Mad Max, he seems two dimensional and almost like he's in another movie.)

Matthew McConaughy, on the other hand, in a small role demonstrates why he seems to be at the top of his game these days. Every moment he's on screen is mesmerizing and believable. And yes, Jonah Hill does some of his best work, but his character too at times seemed very unreal to me, more shtick than real life, and after all it's supposed to be a true story. (His first scenes with DiCaprio were so believable and unlike any other work I've seen of Hill's, I was knocked out and expected the reality of that character to continue, but soon, like I said, here came the familiar Jonah Hill shtick that, to me, seemed completely unrelated to the character as first introduced.)

The real revelation was the Australian actress playing DiCaprio's wife (second wife, but his character's main female match in the flick), Margot Robbie. Her accent, supposed to be from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, was good enough to come across as authentic, and certainly didn't make me think of Australia or any other place other than New York. (John Bernthal, from THE WALKING DEAD, is also terrific as a narcissistic New York small time hustler, and a revelation in his own right.)

I suspect it will win some awards, and certainly deserves the nominations it's gotten, but in the end I see even better performances than DiCaprio's and Robbie's for leading roles (and even McCounaghy's or Hill's for supporting roles) and better direction, editing, etc. in other movies. But WOLF OF WALL STREET, despite at times being way too indulgent, to the point of seeming not just extraneous but exploitative, is still worth watching for Scorcese's usual moments of incredible artistry and for DiCaprio's, McConaughy's, Robbie's and Bernthal's performances).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN

Caught this movie on cable. I'd never heard of it. Probably didn't do so well, and I would guess because it's not the sweetest movie you ever saw (though it has many sweet moments), but it is original in its way and Helen Bonham Carter is at her most adorably yet realistically brilliant.

It's more of a romantic-tragedy than a romantic-comedy, though the tragic part isn't catastrophically tragic, just typically human. Unfortunately, Aaron Eckhart is in over his head. He's great at the lighter moments, and is always good as the straight man to other characters' sarcasm etc. but...the emotional depths he's required to mine he can't reach.

I suspect it was his bid for serious leading man stature, and may be one of the reasons he never achieved that, or not lastingly. But Bonham Carter is always incredible as an actress, and underused as a leading actress when she was in her prime. The character she plays here is beginning to reach that point beyond her "prime" and is achingly aware of it.

The story is clever, and the editing and film work original, creating a plot closer to a mystery story than a romantic one. It's in some ways a one-of-a-kind movie, telling the old boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl Hollywood storyline in a way I've never seen before. So it's worth watching for that. And, maybe you won't find Eckhart so bad, in which case you'll dig it even more.